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Givens v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

November 21, 2017

LEVERN ANDRA GIVENS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS

          WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This is an administrative appeal following the denial of the plaintiff, Levern Andra Givens's, application for Title II disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and Title XVI supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”). It is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g).[1]

         Plaintiff now moves for an order reversing the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”). In the alternative, Plaintiff seeks an order remanding his case for a rehearing. The Commissioner, in turn, has moved for an order affirming her decision.

         The undersigned heard oral argument on November 14, 2017.[2] For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion for an order reversing or remanding the ALJ's decision is granted, and the Commissioner's motion for an order affirming that decision is denied.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “A district court reviewing a final . . . decision [of the Commissioner of Social Security] pursuant to section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), is performing an appellate function.” Zambrana v. Califano, 651 F.2d 842 (2d Cir. 1981). “The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, [are] conclusive . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Accordingly, the district court may not make a de novo determination of whether a plaintiff is disabled in reviewing a denial of disability benefits. Id.; Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the court's function is to first ascertain whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal principles in reaching her conclusion, and then whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987). Therefore, absent legal error, a decision of the Commissioner cannot be set aside if it is supported by substantial evidence. Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982). Further, if the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, that decision will be sustained, even where there may also be substantial evidence to support the plaintiff's contrary position. Schauer v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 55, 57 (2d Cir. 1982).

         Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Substantial evidence must be “more than a scintilla or touch of proof here and there in the record.” Williams, 859 F.2d at 258.

         BACKGROUND

         a. Facts

         On April 23, 2013, Plaintiff filed his applications for DIB and SSI, alleging a disability onset date of April 22, 2013. His claims were denied at both the initial and reconsideration levels. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing. On May 3, 2014, a hearing was held before administrative law judge Deidre R. Horton (the “ALJ”). On April 9, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claims. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. This appeal followed.

         In accordance with the Court's scheduling order, the parties have filed a Stipulation of Facts. [Doc. # 18-2]. The Court adopts the facts as represented, and incorporates them by reference herein.

         b. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ followed the sequential evaluation process for assessing disability claims. At Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (R. 18). At Step Two, the ALJ found Plaintiff's chondromalacia of the right knee to be a severe impairment. (R. 19). At Step Three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Id.). Next, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retains the following residual functional capacity[3]:

Plaintiff can perform medium work except he is limited to frequent climbing of ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and to frequent balancing, bending, ...

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